Art Fair Dos and Don’ts
If you're a putative collector, planning your first trip to Art Basel Hong Kong or any other art fair this season, you may need advice.
It's a heady mix; exciting but also daunting, especially for the uninitiated. For a first-time buyer, the social subtleties at play while buying art at a top-tier fair can be a bit opaque at first – so we're here to help. The following five tips on how to approach, discuss and hopefully bring home a new piece for your collection, should cover the basics of the dealer-patron interaction, but the good taste and sharp eye necessary to pick out a great work of art, are all up to you.
Initially, you really need to do your research. A strong understanding of an artist's oeuvre and market should always be the first step taken when buying a piece. While window shopping can be fun, artworks make for expensive impulse buys. It's far better to come prepared to appreciate the artist for the ideas and skills behind their work.
Once you've found something you like, open with questions about the work, not the price. Good gallerists want to protect their artists' legacies, which means hand-placing their work with conscientious collectors, not flippers who will resell at the first opportunity. If you've done your research, you should have an idea of the artist's price range, and have plenty to discuss with the dealer, before determining if the work on the wall is right for you.
Enquire about inventory. Galleries put their flashiest work front and centre at art fairs, but many also bring along a selection of other pieces. The showstoppers displayed can be pricey, but these other pieces, usually by the same artists on view, may be more affordable and equally impressive.
When you feel ready to make a purchase, you can start getting down to the details: what is this masterpiece going to cost? It's standard practice for dealers to offer a small discount, especially to trusted collectors. Even if it's your first interaction with the gallery, feel free to enquire (tactfully) about a potential price reduction.
And, of course, know when it's time to walk away. Although there is some room for negotiation, artworks are priced according to the artist's current market, which the dealer doesn't want to rock. Trying to talk them much below their discount probably won't work. If the piece is too expensive, you're better off exploring more of the artist's inventory or moving on.
Dylan Kerr is a New York art critic and curator.
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